Iceland becomes first supermarket to trial in-store deposit-return system

Frozen food retailer Iceland has become the UK's first supermarket to trial an in-store deposit-return scheme in support of the Government's recently announced intention to launch a nationwide rollout of the scheme.

The chain has installed a reverse-vending machine – which enables automated collecting, sorting and handling of returned or used plastic bottles for recycling or reuse – in its Fulham store for a six-month trial with a view to a wider rollout.

The reverse-vending unit, which accepts any of the chain’s own-brand beverage bottles and repays customers with a 10p voucher to be used in-store for each bottle inserted, builds on Iceland’s pledge to eliminate plastic packaging from all of its own-label products by the end of 2023.

“There are 12 million tonnes of plastic entering our oceans every year, so we feel a responsibility both to tackle the issue of plastic packaging, as we are doing with our own-label products, and to give our customers the power to make a difference themselves,” Iceland’s managing director Richard Walker said.

“The vocal support Iceland has received since announcing our intention to eradicate plastic packaging has shown us that there is a huge public will to tackle the scourge of plastics.”

The retailer said in a statement that the trial will help its sustainability team “understand consumer perceptions and appetite for the technology”, allowing the brand to “maximise” its contribution to the mooted national implementation in future.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove has heaped praise on the Iceland scheme, applauding the firm for “leading the way”.

“It is absolutely vital we act now to curb the millions of plastic bottles a day that go unrecycled,” Gove said. “Support from businesses will be a vital part of ensuring we leave our environment in a better state than we found it.”

The war on plastic bottles

Plastic waste is one of the hot topics in the sustainability agenda, thanks to heightened scrutiny from campaigners and politicians who are growing increasingly concerned about the UK’s languishing recycling rates and damaging build-up of plastic waste in oceans.

At present, just 43% of the 13bn plastic bottles sold each year in the UK are recycled, and 700,000 are littered every day. In stark contrast, a return scheme was introduced in Germany in 2003 and 99% of plastic bottles are now recycled there.

This has led UK MPs to believe that a deposit return scheme could help to boost the UK’s plastic recycling rate to 90% and help businesses repurpose plastic waste streams by assigning them a value, with Gove announcing in January his intention to launch a nationwide version in the UK.

Businesses and consumers will now be consulted on the details of how a system would work, alongside a separate consultation on how a tax system could reduce the amount of single-use plastic waste created by containers such as packaging and polystyrene takeaway boxes.

But while supermarket giants Iceland and the Co-op – the latter is trialling its own version at select festivals this summer – have given their backing to the introduction of a nationwide DRS – even at a cost to their businesses – trade bodies representing brands such as Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Coca-Cola have lobbied the Government to oppose the scheme and new EU proposals designed to boost recycling.

Sarah George

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